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--Heather Wisner

Natural Movement
Fault. Performed by the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company. Choreography by Jenkins and Ellie Klopp. Lighting and set design by Alex Nichols. Costumes by Beaver Bauer. At Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard (at Third Street), Sept. 24-26.

Margaret Jenkins and Ellie Klopp's Fault moves like the Earth's constantly recycling surface. Unpredictable solos and intertwining duos are overwhelmed by a group of dancers stretching out, hand to hand, like a fault line or streaming together in a strong current of motion. The formation then re-fragments into smaller clusters. One performer draws us tight into her swooping torso, arms a craggy outcropping, while a whole cadre catapults in and out of view, limbs etched in the space left behind. Another slides to the floor from the wings, settling like a tumbled rock at the feet of bounding dancers.

Like the propulsive entrances in Merce Cunningham's 1974 masterpiece Sounddance, the movement in Fault feels pulled together and split apart by a physical principle stronger and more natural than the logic of a rectangular stage. The expansive dancers are made small by the movement they spin out, which rolls from moment to moment, reverberating beyond them.

The score, written by Alvin Curran and David Lang and performed by the Paul Dresher Ensemble (with percussion help from a taped William Winant), echoes the rising and bursting tension of the dancing. The music pings like a beeper, creaks like a melting glacier, knocks like billiard balls, plunk-plunks like rain, rolls like a Philip Glass refrain, and lets the dance begin and end in cocked silence.

The basic lesson of geological evolution -- that individuality exists within a grand structure; that the pockets of quartz, streaks of obsidian, and pools of water on a mountain come about in separate time -- doesn't often find its way into dance, which tends to sacrifice the group for the individual or vice versa. But in Fault, the lush, stunningly grounded dancers are completely distinct, even as they take part in some overarching scheme. Kathleen Hermesdorf hangs her soft, weighted body from her arms and looks straight at you, as if it's just you and she. Abby Crain swirls in and out of the floor with smooth, elastic strength, her legs acting as powerful levers. Paul Benney has the airy athleticism of a Calder mobile.

Through the dancers' particularities, Fault creates a precious paradox where the natural, the abstract, and the human come together. The fascinating unpredictability of what a body's force and direction will lead to saves the dance from the usual faults of postmodern abstraction, seen in the stupefying geometric designs of Laura Dean; the physics lessons of Elizabeth Streb; and the desiccated, computer-generated visions of some recent Cunningham.

But, if the dancers in Fault matter (notas personalities, of course, but as unique movers), they seem to move from an impulse deeper than instinct and even than will. They've become larger than their thoughts of themselves. In this dance, they are natural elements that have somehow condensed their evolution into a couple of cataclysmic hours.

-- Apollinaire Scherr


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